Let’s face it, Christmas programming, be it film or television, is stale for the most part so it’s always great when something different comes along to change things up. When it comes to Violent Night, the film definitely delivers what its title suggests as audiences are in for a violent night. A cross between Die Hard and Home Alone, it makes Santa Claus into the next action hero and is an absolute blast to watch. That being said, the premise is an entertaining one but it could only go so far. Running at almost 2 hours, it easily could have been at least 10-20 minutes shorter as it attempts to surround that premise with an essentially meaningless story to ground it and advance the premise. While the characters are thin and derivative, most audiences just want to see Santa Claus dispatching waves and waves of enemies and for that, it succeeds and will be what most will remember. Though there are plenty of films in the same vein, where it sets itself apart is the Christmas spin it puts on the genre, showing plenty of vision and creativity. Not only is it exciting, it is also surprisingly hilarious.
Suffice it to say that the version of Santa Claus in Violent Night is unlike what most are used to which was the point. This Santa Claus (Harbour) found himself in the position that he didn’t quite fully understand but nonetheless continued to perform for over 1,000+ years. Meanwhile, times and people have certainly changed during his tenure therefore it is easy to feel a little jaded and lose faith as the concept of Santa Claus wasn’t nearly what it used to be. Despite this, he kept going. Little did he know, this Christmas was going to be different as he once again found himself in a precarious situation in the form of a home invasion by a group of mercenaries attacking the estate of a seedy wealthy family on Christmas Eve. In the end, it would be up to him to save the day though in order to do so, he’d need to be reminded of who he was. Breaking up the Santa Claus storyline and adding to the film’s excessive runtime is the family who bring nothing other than some run-of-the-mill dysfunction and several other subplots stemming from it. They don’t matter and are merely a distraction.
Not that it really had to but Santa Claus is given somewhat of a backstory to justify his actions here. When it comes to the action, he is who he is for which the film used to its advantage. The fight choreography is a blast to watch as it utilizes its environment in inventive ways while the Christmas music playing overtop of sequences only adds to it. Though it takes a while to get there, once the film did get there, it did not disappoint. Still, one can’t help but want more as the film seemed to prioritize the other subplots thus failing to find the right balance overall. As the film goes on, it just gets increasingly ridiculous as the stakes grew. However, it still finds a way to come together as it fumbled its way to some sort of an ending to justify itself and drop an underlying message that is likely to be lost on audiences. The nice and hopeful bow it was surely intended to be is simply more of the same. Using some not so subtle messaging to make a not so subtle point, the characters are too thin to make it work let alone care.
Ultimately, the best part of Violent Night is Harbour’s terrific performance as a much different version of Santa Claus. Breaking the mold, he’s flawed, doesn’t know all the answers, and was a little rough around the edges but Harbour’s charm and likeability only made this Santa Claus more endearing. He was a blast to watch, figuring things out as he went along while fighting various mercenaries in creative not to mention brutal ways as the film definitely earns its 14A/R rating. While Harbour is indisputably the highlight of the film, the same could not be said about everything else that surrounded him. Though it’s nice to see D’Angelo once again in a major production, this time as the matriarch of the powerful Lightstone family Gertrude Lightstone, that side of the story wasn’t as interesting.
At the end of the day, Violent Night probably won’t become the next Christmas classic but as it stands, is an entertaining escape that probably won’t be remembered come next Christmas.
still courtesy of Universal Pictures
The EIC of the coincidentally-named keithlovesmovies.com. A Canadian who prefers to get out of the cold and into the warmth of a movie theatre.